When someone discovers your website via a search engine, you have only a few seconds to convince them to stay as they ask themselves, “Is this what I was looking for?” This marks the beginning of their user experience on your site, so hopefully your page will seem relevant to their search. But there’s little chance that experience will ever begin if your page lacks the necessary search engine optimization (SEO) to place it among the top search results.
SEO requires careful selection and implementation of the right keywords on your landing page. For the best results, choose one primary keyword (a word or phrase) for your landing page and focus your efforts on that, plus any common variations. Google’s Keyword Tool can suggest close variations if you need help with this.
If there are frequently sought synonyms or acronyms for your primary keyword, include those on the page, too. You could choose to set up separate landing pages dedicated to these, but bear in mind that Google often ‘punishes’ pages with duplicate or near-duplicate content, so only attempt that if you’re also planning A/B testing of two significantly different landing pages.
Next, place your keyword in the following tags, ideally right at the start of each tag.
Title Tag SEO
This tag is very important to search engines, so it’s essential to include your keyword in the <title> tag in the <head> section of your HTML. As well as appearing at the top of many browser windows when your page is displayed, the title also appears in search results, so consider the likely mindset of people searching for your keyword and write a title that should appeal to them. Google will only display the first 66 characters of your title (including spaces), so stay within that limit, and include a synomym and/or acronym if you need to.
H Tag SEO
The <h1> tag, which should be the main heading of your page, is also very important to search engines. If your site already uses this tag for the name of the website (which is not uncommon), it will impact your SEO, so you may need to reclaim the <h1> tag on your landing page.
Where possible, use your keyword in both the page heading and first sub-heading (the latter ideally being wrapped in an <h2> tag). You’ll probably need to get creative to avoid blatant repetition, but if you can’t find a satisfactory way to use it in both places, consider at least using the keyword’s synonym or acronym in the sub-heading instead—and then use your primary keyword in the next available sub-heading.
If your page doesn’t have sub-headings, find a way to incorporate some—it will help your SEO, and has the added benefit of making your page easier to scan and navigate.
SEO in Other Text
Search engines consider the first few sentences or paragraphs of your page the most important, so if your keyword and variations of it appear there (not just in headings), this will work in your favor.
However, bear in mind that what appears first on a rendered page is rarely the first part of the HTML behind the scenes. If your pages load hundreds of lines of HTML before the content even begins, this could impact your SEO, because search engines crawl the HTML, not what visitors see on the page. If this is an issue on your pages, consider moving site-wide components like header navigation to a later position in the HTML structure, and use CSS to have them render at the top of the page.
Look for other opportunities to use your keywords, too. For instance, if you have images on your page, could they use captions? If so, use your keywords in those captions.
Also, use keywords in the ‘alt text’ that describes your images where appropriate. Some sites abuse the alt attribute, stuffing it with keywords that have no relevance to the image. Avoid this practice if you can—’alt text’ is after all a valuable asset that can make your site more accessible. It’s not difficult to write ‘alt text’ that helps both screen reader users and your SEO.
URLs and Filenames
Your page will have an SEO advantage if its URL includes your primary keyword. And if your site’s domain name includes your keyword, even better. Even the filenames of your images can help SEO, so include keywords when saving images.
Meta tags in your page’s <head> are no longer as important as they once were—search engines wised up when these tags were consistently misused for SEO. But don’t disregard these tags—they’ll sometimes give your page a slight edge over other search results. The meta description is often displayed in search results, so write a description that should engage with searchers, including your keyword. 10-12 words in the meta keywords tag will suffice—using too many may negatively affect your SEO.
Links to Your Landing Page
As well as assessing your page’s content, search engines also consider links to your page, to determine whether others consider it valuable. You can help build ‘off-page SEO’ by linking to it from other sites, in your business’s social media messages, in blog articles hosted on other domains, and so on.
Encourage others to link to your page, giving them tools to easily share the page with friends and colleagues on social networks. Third party vendors such as AddThis and ShareThis offer social sharing tools that are easy to implement.
Be sure to include Google’s “+1″ button among your social sharing options. When a Google user finds your page in their search results, they’ll be notified if anyone in their Google+ network has clicked the “+1″ button to recommend your page to others. Such recommendations will help your page stand apart from other pages in those search results. At the time of writing, Google is also experimenting with factoring such Google+ information into their search algorithms, which could have a significant impact on your site’s overall SEO.
Links within your own site can also help, especially if your link text includes your keywords. For instance, if your keyword is “cellphone”, use link text like “cellphone details” rather than “click here for details” or “learn more.” In fact, do the same when linking from other sites if possible—it emphasizes the connection between your page and the keyword.
Is This Enough?
Of course, even if you optimize your page perfectly and it tops the search results for your targeted keyword, there’s still no guarantee that people will remain on your page when they arrive there.
If your keyword is prominent when the page first loads, this will certainly reassure the searcher that they’ve found content relevant to their search criteria, but they might still be disappointed by the page if the content just doesn’t resonate with them. My next article will look at how to create an effective landing page.
In the meantime, take a look at your existing landing pages to see if any of the SEO tips above could be applied to them—you need all the ammunition you can get in The Battle for Page One. And, as ever, if you suspect you need to start over, take a deep breath… and do it!